sport

Selby giving Ronnie a real test

Ronnie O'Sullivan has branded Mark Selby "a predator" and had little doubt he was in for a gruelling test in the World Championship final.

Selby has the prey of the World Championship trophy, the only major prize in snooker he has yet to claim, in his crosshairs.

And were it not for a shocking missed black in the eighth frame of Sunday's opening afternoon session he would have shared the spoils from a first session O'Sullivan briefly looked like sprinting away with.

The two-day final at the Crucible was shaping into a battle that would be defined by Selby's ability to effectively counter-attack the unmistakable multi-pronged threat posed by a man chasing his sixth world title.

When Selby dropped the opening three frames on Sunday afternoon, his prospects looked bleak, but by the session's close he was back to 5-3 adrift - and the 30-year-old was kicking himself the match was not all square.

With the final frame of the afternoon at his mercy after fluking the last red, Selby proceeded to blunder on the black and could only smile as he returned to his seat, knowing O'Sullivan would mop up all the colours. Duly he did.

O'Sullivan's "torturer" verdict of the Leicester cueman emerged in his book 'Running' last year, and he added the "predator" tag on Friday.

Selby's stubborn table nature can grind with the man who thrives on fluency, and it is key to his title prospects.

It was evident in his ability to slow down O'Sullivan after his hour in full flight on Sunday afternoon.

And it means that finally, after Shaun Murphy and then Barry Hawkins folded to sorry quarter-final and semi-final defeats against O'Sullivan, both men losing ignominiously a session early, the defending champion apparently has a serious contest on his hands.

Joe Perry pushed him close to the brink of defeat in round two, but O'Sullivan has been on easy street since.

Ken Doherty, the 1997 world champion, expects Selby to be able to put O'Sullivan through a battle of wits.

"He's not going to out-pot him, he's not going to out-break-build him, but he can get to him," Doherty said on BBC Two.

"He has called him the torturer in the past - but how crucial will that black prove to be?"

Heading into the match, refereed to popular local acclaim by Sheffield's Brendan Moore, Selby was convinced he could duke it out with O'Sullivan, providing he took advantage when openings came along.

"I know I'm up against it. Ronnie's probably the best player to have played the game. If I take my chances, I know I can win," Selby said, after seeing off Neil Robertson in a thrilling semi-final.

The 2007 World Championship runner-up added: "I'm a lot more confident now.

"When I got to the world final seven years ago I was a qualifier at the time so any match I was winning was a bonus.

"Now if I go to a tournament and don't win it, I see it as a failure, so I'm confident and hopefully I can pull through."

O'Sullivan made the lone century of the session, a typically rapid 102 in frame three, and also had a 69 and 63 in claiming his two-frame cushion.

If Selby needing any further driving motivation, it came in his desire to avoid the unwelcome hat-trick of losses in the finals of the tournaments that make up snooker's unofficial triple crown this season.

Beaten by Robertson in the UK Championship final, Selby took a 10-4 stuffing by O'Sullivan at the climax of the Masters.

He was 7-1 adrift after the first session on that occasion. Despite his frustrating end to this latest session, at least Selby was in touch.